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Dr. Joseph  Lorenzo

Open Access Turns to the Dark Side

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In a recent article, Gina Kolata, a science reporter for the New York Times (1), writes about a disturbing new development in science, the rising number of predatory publishers and for profit conferences that masquerade as legitimate scientific enterprises. These are journals and conferences that are organized for what appears to be the sole purpose of generating profits for their publishers or conference organizers. Often they originate in third world countries and create titles for their enterprises that mimic or even plagiarize established scientific endeavors. Their goal is to dupe scientists into submitting articles or agreeing to be part of conferences and then charging unwitting applicants large fees to publish or present their work in venues that have little scientific credibility. Their business plan is similar to that of many Internet scam artists. They use email to send unsolicited spam to large numbers of legitimate scientists in the hope that a several will respond.


In the case of predatory journals, once a recipient of these emails submits a manuscript, it frequently receives, at most, a cursory review before it is almost automatically accepted for publication. However, after articles are published, unwitting authors find out that they are being charged extremely high fees for this privilege. All of these pseudo-journals use a web-only open access format since this is relatively inexpensive for their “publisher” to maintain. One source quoted in the New York Times article believes that at least a quarter of all open access journals are predatory. Often these journals solicit legitimate scientists to be part of their bogus editorial boards so that they can use their professional standing to lend credence to their real purpose of maximizing profits. Hence, academics need to be wary of unsolicited requests for their participation in editorial boards that are easy to join and almost impossible to leave.


Similarly, unsolicited requests to be part of conferences with unclear origins and dubious organizers should set off “red flags”. Scientists need to be concerned that such conferences are solely designed to enrich the conference organizers rather than advance the frontiers of science.


Jeffery Beal, a research librarian at the University of Colorado in Denver (2), has established a web site that catalogs many of these predatory publishers. He also lists criteria that authors should be concerned about when considering submitting an article to an on line “open access” journal. These include being certain that the editor and staff are reputable, the publisher has goals of advancing science and not just generating profits from the fees charged to the authors and, most importantly, the journal publishes articles of high scientific content.


Joe Lorenzo,

Farmington, CT USA

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